Spanish sailors increase pressure against Norway / News / The Foreigner

Spanish sailors increase pressure against Norway. OSLO/VALENCIA (EXTENDED ARTICLE): Long Hope Association representatives tell The Foreigner they shall be showing their dissatisfaction about Norway’s sluggishness on the tax issue. “We’ll be holding a public demonstration in front of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Madrid backed by trade unions and University of Madrid students,” “says spokesperson Alberto Paz Viñas, “and this will be in a few days’ time.” His remarks come following the Association’s visit to Oslo last week. They participated in a series of meetings to try to resolve the ongoing dispute, a 44-year one relating to some 12,000 Spanish seaman who served in the Norwegian merchant fleet from 1950.

spain, sailors, pension, tax, norway, ships



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Spanish sailors increase pressure against Norway

Published on Thursday, 27th November, 2014 at 13:06 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last Updated on 22nd January 2015 at 08:50.

OSLO/VALENCIA (EXTENDED ARTICLE): Long Hope Association representatives tell The Foreigner they shall be showing their dissatisfaction about Norway’s sluggishness on the tax issue.

Long Hope Association
L-R: Juan Lores Nazara, Alberto Paz Viñas, Maria Isabel Pereira Varela, and Juan Manuel Fajardo Recouso pictured in the lobby of their hotel in Oslo during their visit to Norway.Long Hope Association
Photo: ©2014 Michael Sandelson/The Foreigner


“We’ll be holding a public demonstration in front of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Madrid backed by trade unions and University of Madrid students,” “says spokesperson Alberto Paz Viñas, “and this will be in a few days’ time.”

His remarks come following the Association’s visit to Oslo last week. They participated in a series of meetings to try to resolve the ongoing dispute, a 44-year one relating to some 12,000 Spanish seaman who served in the Norwegian merchant fleet from 1950.

The meetings involved Norway’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union (NSU), the Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), the Spanish Ambassador to Norway Antonio López Martínez, law firm Grette, and EU Ambassador to Norway Helen Campbell.

Accompanying Mr Viñas to these was Deputy Head of Mission at the Spanish Embassy in Oslo, Raúl Bartolomé, and Juan Manuel Fajardo Recouso, Alternativa Galega de Esquerda (AGE) Party deputy in the Galician Parliament.

Juan Lores Nazara, President of the Long Hope Association, and documentalist Maria Isabel Pereira Varela also attended.

“A robbery”

Deputy Minister Thor Kleppen Sættem
Deputy Minister Thor Kleppen Sættem
Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs
The Foreigner met the delegation from Spain at their hotel in the Norwegian capital to interview them about the issue last week.

“I discussed the matter Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Thor Kleppen Sættem on Monday. I pointed out both the unfair treatment of Spanish sailors, and that Norway should respect us as we respect the Norwegians in Spain to him”, Alberto Paz Viñas explained, “and that it’s been a well-planned robbery built up over years.”

“So he was staring at me, and didn’t really know what to answer. I said to him “please solve this matter via some type of agreement.””

Mr Viñas went on to say that the Deputy Minister asked if the matter concerned pensions. The Spanish seamen concerned paid income tax at a reduced rate – 10 per cent for married couples, 15 per cent for unmarried persons.

“I said “no”, we’re not claiming pensions. We’re claiming back our entire taxes to date, for all of us, those who are alive, and on behalf of those who are dead. Because they left families behind,” said Mr Viñas.

Barred                   

The seamen worked on Norwegian ships for between 15 and 30 years. Mr Viñas also stated that they received a monthly sum of 600 euros in return. Things would have been worse if it was not for the Spanish government, according to him.

“It’s unfair. It’s nothing. You can hardly pay to buy peanuts [with this].”

So they received 600 euros, and that’s it?

The Royal Viking Star in Bermuda, 1989
The Royal Viking Star in Bermuda, 1989
Terageorge/Wikimedia Commons
“Yes. 600 euros every month. It’s little in comparison to people who worked in the Spanish Merchant Fleet for 15, 20, or let’s say 30 years receive. Spanish legislation allows them 1,400 Euros, 1,800, or 2,000 for those in the top bracket.”

“So they spent their whole life [working for the Norwegian Merchant Fleet], and for what?” asked Mr Viñas.

“We’ve been paying 3,000 to 4,500 Norwegian kroner in tax every month. Our contribution to the Norwegian Social Security scheme would have been 300 kroner a month, if we had been allowed to pay into it. What difference would this have made to us? 300 Kroner extra per month means nothing when you’re paying between 3,000 and 4,000 monthly. It’s peanuts.”

But was it just income tax that you were paying?

“Yes. We were forced to be fiscal residents.”

Big bucks

The seamen were taxed to Norway because they were working on Norwegian vessels. Almost none of them altered their country of domicile, Mr Viñas stated.

“We kept our Spanish residency. They [Norway] have collected a lot of tax from us,”

Norwegian Ministry of Finance
Norwegian Ministry of Finance
© 2005-2007 Bjørn Erik Pedersen/W.Common
The Long Hope Association calculates that the sum amounts to about 3.5 billion kroner in monetary value at the time.

“It’s about 520 million euros converted to today’s exchange value. Ok, it could be 400, but it’s around this amount,” said Mr Viñas, adding that he once asked the Ministry of Finance what the money has gone to.

“[I asked] “where have you invested it, what have you been using it towards”. I said “I require this information because I’ve been paying contributions to Norway, and I think your laws allow me to know the destiny of the money”. I’m still waiting for an answer,” he remarked.

So when did you ask them?

“Almost three years ago; something like that.”

A marred horizon

“At the end of our meeting, Deputy Labour and Social Affairs Minister Thor Kleppen Sættem pointed out that he couldn’t give any immediate answer concerning the matter, as it was pending a decision by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.”

“This is because the Ombudsman is an independent institution, and they won’t interfere with his decision,” said Alberto Paz Viñas.

The Spanish Embassy in Oslo
The Spanish Embassy in Oslo
©2009 Kjetil Ree/Wikimedia Commons
There was also a question from Raúl Bartolomé, Deputy Head of Mission at the Spanish Embassy in Oslo.

“He asked for an agreement and terms to solve the matter. At the same time, He also pointed out to the Deputy Minister that, “Sir, you know that our bilateral relations are very good, they’re bright. But there is a cloud here that casts a shadow upon our relations, so please try to solve this matter,” Mr Viñas imparted.

Tuesday saw another round of meetings. The first was with Parliamentary Ombudsman Aage Thor Falkanger. Mr Falkanger assumed his post after his predecessor, Arne Fliflet, closed the case from the Norway’s side in 2013.

“The authorities have stated that Norway neither wants to, nor deems it feasible, to enter into any bilateral agreement with Spain in order to accommodate the claims now launched by the Spanish seamen,” a copy of the official letter states.

Another document The Foreigner has seen shows that Mr Fiflet subsequently resigned from his post, informing parliament that “he was not prepared to be reappointed for a new term.”

A reminder

Parliamentary Ombudsman Aage Thor Falkanger (2010)
Parliamentary Ombudsman Aage Thor Falkanger (2010)
Justis- og politidepartementet/W. Commons
Ombudsman Aage Thor Falkanger then asked authorities to find a fair and just solution, after officials decided to reopen the case “for the sake of goodwill."

Long Hope’s Mr Viñas said about their meeting with Mr Falkanger that, “Well, he was very cordial and everything at our meeting, so we talked, and explained the matter, and so on.

According to him, Raúl Bartolomé then advised the Ombudsman to inform his government about the slightly occluded, but otherwise “bright and clear relations.”

““It has to be solved”, said Mr Bartolomé, “because we will bring this matter to the table whenever there is contact between Norway and Spain.”

Did the ombudsman say anything to Mr Bartolomé in reply?

“No, but he did say that “the Ombudsman is not the correct person to dictate how things should be.” He might make recommendations [to the government], but he cannot oblige them to do so.”

The delegation then went to meet with the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union, who declared that it was a state matter between Spain and Norway.

“I asked them what we are doing sitting there with them after paying over four years’ worth of union dues. So we’re not a team now, as long as we have a problem? You are supposed to help us,” Mr Viñas commented.

“He [NSU Deputy Leader Johnny Hansen] said “we hadn’t agreed to that because I was not here then”. “Yes, but you are responsible,” I told him. “Otherwise you are unnecessary here. Are you going to help us, or not?””

It was then decided that the matter would be raised at the organisation’s meeting on 12th December.

Legal support

The Long Hope Association has also garnered diplomatic and legal support for their case.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) are backing them. Norway’s LO (Confederation of Trade Unions) said at Wednesday’s meeting that they will be asking the government to solve the matter.

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg
European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg
CherryX/Wikimedia Commons
Moreover, the Spanish Ambassador to Norway, Antonio López Martínez, told the Spanish delegation at their lunch the following day that the Embassy will come to their assistance if necessary.

What did His Excellency say?

“His Excellency said they are backing us. He will contact the Ministry of Labour in Madrid to get legal support should this be needed. However, they will also try to raise the matter in some way to avoid the matter going to court.”

Long Hope has threatened to bring Norway to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, or the UN. The Association claims the Scandinavian country has committed violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And you’ve also met lawyers from Grette law firm in connection with the issue?

“While they are very interested in acting on our behalf, I said we prefer to wait until we’ve heard from people we have met this week before deciding. We didn’t come to Oslo in order to take Norway to court straight away,” declared Mr Viñas.

“First and last time”

According to him, their Friday meeting with EU Ambassador to Norway, Helen Campbell, did not bring anything new. It was the last meeting before they returned to Spain the following day.

“The European Parliament Committee on Petitions says they have already received my documentation under the relevant petition number because the matter was discussed in 2011. The issue was subsequently closed, but then I asked for it to be reopened in order to push Norway,” he declared.

Norway's national archives
Norway's national archives
© Hans-Petter Fjeld/Wikimedia Commons
Mr Viñas also said that he has apprised Deputy Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Thor Kleppen Sættem that he will not be coming to Norway anew.

“I told him that the next time we meet will be in court, and that this isn’t a threat, purely information. It’s our last word on the matter. I’ve told everyone involved this too. It’s the only way.”

“We’re trying to do our best to avoid legal action, but they are the ones who are forcing us to carry this out. We’re all grandfathers. I’m the youngest at 60, some are 75,” added Mr Viñas.

Long Hope is currently sifting through copies of 2,000 sheets of information they obtained from the National Archives during their trip to Norway.  A meeting with the Ministry of Labour in Spain is also scheduled.

“This documentation is very important, because included in it are contracts filled out in Spanish. These state that Spanish seamen (workers) have the same rights as Norwegian nationals,” Mr Viñas concluded.

No entitlement

Parliamentary Ombudsman Aage Thor Falkanger had sent a letter to Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs officials, asking them to comment on new allegations by the sailors.

These regard old age pension entitlement from Norway in connection with a possible breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of discrimination).

The flags of the Nordic countries
The flags of the Nordic countries
Malene Thyssen/Wikimedia Commons
Officials replied, saying that “as there has not been time to consult other Ministries, in particular the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, our comments should be considered as preliminary.”

Their letter, a copy of which The Foreigner has, contains six points. These state that:

  • According to the National Insurance Act of 1967, sailors who were foreign nationals and resident outside Norway were not members of the National Insurance Scheme. Furthermore, such sailors were not members of the Pension Insurance for Seamen according to the act on that scheme.
  • As these sailors were not members of the schemes in question, no contributions were collected towards those schemes, either from the sailors themselves or from their employers.
  • There was no social security agreement in effect between Spain and Norway. However, the Nordic Convention on social security entailed membership in the mentioned pension schemes for foreign sailors resident in one of the Nordic Countries. This would also apply to Spanish sailors.
  • The lack of membership in the relevant schemes and the corresponding lack of paid contributions means that no old age pension is payable.
  • The EU and EFTA surveillance authorities have stated that Norway has acted within its legal obligations as far as the EEA Agreement is concerned.
  • Spanish sailors were subject to taxation in Norway in accordance with Norwegian law and the agreement between Spain and Norway on taxation.

Ambassador Helen Campbell told The Foreigner she does not wish to make further comment at this time. The Parliamentary Ombudsman has not responded to requests for comment regarding the Long Hope Association’s visit to Norway.




Published on Thursday, 27th November, 2014 at 13:06 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last updated on 22nd January 2015 at 08:50.

This post has the following tags: spain, sailors, pension, tax, norway, ships.





  
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